Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you…Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good successwherever you go.This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Joshua 1:5, 7-8
Leadership changes are scary…and not just the political ones. Leadership changes at church are just as troublesome. None are more scary than changing shepherds of a congregation. Having served on pastor search teams myself, and having trained dozens of other such teams and processes for various churches and organizations, I have lots of stories of the many “pitfalls” and traps which await us when it comes to prayerfully searching for a new shepherd. So, for those of you who find this topic relevant, here are three mistakes Pastor search teams often make:
1. Making it a secular process. As laymen, we all bring whatever experiences and expertise we may have from our industries to our ministry, and it would be easy to think of the pastor search process as primarily (or essentially) a human resources process. But it is not…not primarily. Rather, it is first and foremost a spiritual discernment process. And as with any spiritual discernment process, it should bubble up out of deep and humbling gathered prayer. Indeed, prayer should not only be foundational and central to the process, but it …
Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. Numbers 14:30-32
Once it becomes clear that God is calling your church to join Him in a particular adventure, it is always troubling when those few naysayers vote “no”. The struggle is only compounded by the realization that this is the very same group of people who voted “no” on the last big initiative as well…and the one before that, and the one before that. You know the ones I mean. They are the pot-stirrers in your church who have the spiritual gift of voting “no”.
They may be a minority, even a tiny minority in terms of numbers, but they can be vocal. They can also be influential. Like the 10 naysaying spies, these individuals can spread their negativity like a wildfire through the congregation. And before you know it, your people’s fears can seem insurmountable, faith is out the window, and a vision is well on the way to dying a slow and painful death.
You know how Caleb’s story ended. In what may be one of the greatest “I told you so” moments in all of God’s story, Caleb ends up receiving God’s reward because he was courageous enough to speak the truth and because he stayed with all those people who voted against him for another 40 long years. We don’t know …
So Moses went back to the LORD and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” Exodus 32:31-32
Of the men who went to explore the land, only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh survived. Numbers 14:38
Thinking today about the twelve spies in Numbers who explored and investigated the promised land and reported back to the people. Ten of the spies brought a discouraging report and two (Joshua and Caleb) brought a faith-filled report. The people went with the majority report and cowered from the task to which God had called them. All of them were cursed and sent to wander in the wilderness another forty years. Caleb and Joshua had to go with them.
I’m wondering if Joshua and Caleb had a regular Tuesday night support group for each other during those forty years of living under the consequences of everyone else’s mistakes. Can you even imagine the frustration…the pain of giving up forty of their best years to pay the price for other people’s sin? Can you imagine the temptation of gathering the entire assembly of Israel together on the annual anniversary of their collective cowardice and, together, Joshua and Caleb yelling out “We told you so!” But as far as we know, they did no such thing. As far as we know, Joshua and Caleb bit their tongues and continued to lead well throughout those forty years in the wilderness. That is what leadership sometimes calls us to do in the church…to suffer the consequences of other people’s mistakes.
But not only is it a call to suffer consequences, it is a call …
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:11
This year, my home church celebrated a significant birthday. It is 150 years old. That, my friends, means something in excess of 7,000 covered dish suppers. Think about that. So we are spending all of this year reflecting on the last 150 years. It is truly great fun, even for those of us who are not necessarily history buffs. It is really interesting thinking about the historical events going on around those 13 dear souls who founded our church. Can you even imagine trying to start a new church at the same time the country is dividing for the Civil War?
So, all of this reflecting and celebrating got me thinking about the things we celebrate in the church.
I believe in the celebration of human achievement. I believe that, especially in a “volunteer army” like the church, pats on the back for a job well done are critical. I would even go so far as to say that every ministry team leader needs to be intentional about celebrating when volunteers get it “right”. That is just good leadership.
I also believe in taking the occasional glance back in history to remember (i.e., to celebrate) the sacrifices of those who have gone before us in order to make our lives (and ministries) possible. Again, that is just good leadership to keep us connected to our heritage.
But among God’s people, there is a far greater focus when it comes to celebrating. Far more important than celebrating human achievement in the church is the discerning, marking and celebrating what God has done among us. Like Joshua erecting the stone memorial so as to say, “Thus far hath the Lord brought …